The Smashing Pumpkins
with Kill Hannah, Bad City
House of Blues, Orlando, FL • July 19, 2010
Billy Corgan is The Smashing Pumpkins in the same way that Trent Reznor is Nine Inch Nails. It’s always preferable to find an entire original lineup that sticks together throughout the decades, but in the case of The Smashing Pumpkins circa 2010, I have to agree with the band’s soundman who proclaimed to me before the show, “this is the best Pumpkins lineup ever.”
Jimmy Chamberlin, James Iha, and D’arcy Wretzky are all out, the new guns in Cogan’s arsenal are Jeff Schroeder, Nicole Fiorentino, and Mike Byrne — a 20-year-old drum prodigy who beat out thousands of auctioneers for the coveted gig. With the cue-ball mastermind at the helm, the newly recharged edition of the former ’90s Gods proved that they deserve a place in the pantheon of kick-ass rock bands at a recent sold-out Orlando show.
Not so kick-ass, but trying real hard, were openers Bad City. The young Chicago band unabashedly comes off like a hair metal band sans the big hair. Cheesy rock guitar riffs, songs about how “rock ‘n’ roll will never die,” and a lanky blonde-haired singer who gestures dramatically and sings with a Vince Neil draw plague their performance. They may sound a bit like Motley Crüe on the surface, but they come off more like Warrant, and unless it’s 1987 and you’re in middle school, that’s not a good thing.
Kill Hannah was only a marginal step in the right direction. Also hailing from the Windy City, this darkly decor’ed band sounds like an emo teen’s take on the breathy but brutal side of the Pumpkins. Every now and then they touched upon a moment of undeniable catchiness, as with “Lips Like Morphine” and “Kennedy,” but mostly they were like My Chemical Romance-light. Hidden inside of blue lighting, which allowed singer Mat Devine’s red eye makeup to glow, Kill Hannah bought themselves some fans though sheer determination — but I wasn’t one of them. Though their humble sincerity in being asked to be on the tour was sweet to see: “Opening for Smashing Pumpkins like this — you are literally watching as our dreams come true.”
After last month’s less than stellar experience of seeing Hole perform, my expectations for this show were low. I went into the House of Blues, as I’m sure a lot of fans did, wishing to hear a few old favorites and hoping that Billy Corgan didn’t go off on one of his infamous rants. What I did not expect to experience was two hours of unparalleled rock fury — the kind of show that is sure to be forever etched into my memory as one of those unforgettable concerts that serves to reinforce my obsession for attending concerts in the first place.
Communally reveling in the time machine performances of “Today,” of “Bullet With Butterfly Wings,” of “Cherub Rock” was even more cathartic than listening to those songs as an angst-filled teenager. The real surprise came with how equally fulfilling it was to hear the brand new songs off of Teargarden by Kaleidyscope — a 44-song collection being made available song by song as free downloads on the band’s website. Even the songs that I had previously ignored from 2007’s Zeitgeist suddenly sparkled. “Tarantula,” “United States” — the latter with its blistering call for revolution in the chorus — how did I overlook these?
At the heart of every song was a newly rejuvenated energy perhaps inspired by the new members, who are each a wonder and collectively support Corgan’s underestimated abilities as a guitarist. This current lineup has industrialized The Smashing Pumpkins, giving the music a steroid injection.
There was little talk, and no Corgan rant, just song after song culminating with the haunting and gorgeous “Tonight, Tonight” off of the band’s opus Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness that resulted in near spiritual exultation on the part of the grateful crowd.
A two-song encore of brand new “Freak” and 2007’s “Gossamer” drove home the point that Corgan and crew have got their feet planted firmly in the present. They may join the old fans for a trip down memory lane, but they’ve no desire to live there. So long as they keep making music as potent as this, fans should be happy to ride along with them into the future.
The Smashing Pumpkins: www.smashingpumpkins.com